What’s the difference between IBS and IBD?

17th October 2019
Posted in IBD, IBS
17th October 2019 Alex Evans

What’s the difference between IBS and IBD?

Many people get irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) confused, and it’s easy to see why. Both are acute conditions that lead to abdominal pains, cramping, and diarrhoea. However, despite having shared symptoms, these two conditions are very different.

To help understand the difference between IBS and IBD, I thought I would break down the differences for you.

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a widespread, chronic condition of the digestive system. It may result in bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, and stomach cramps. Symptoms vary from person to person and more seriously affect some than others. The symptoms last from a few days to a couple of months, often in times of stress or after eating certain foods.

Someone with IBS may find it begins to affect their everyday life, but tests will often show no biological explanation.

What is IBD?

IBD stands for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  The two main forms are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

These are both chronic conditions involving inflammation of the intestines. Ulcerative colitis affects the colon only. Crohn’s disease, however, may involve any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.

IBD is a structural disease, which means that the symptoms are the result of physical damage to the body. When examining the intestine with X-ray, endoscopy, surgery or biopsy, doctors can see chronic inflammation or ulcers which will result in a diagnosis of IBD.

How are the IBS and IBD different?

The most common symptoms of IBS are:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea

Someone with IBD can also display these symptoms, in addition to:

  • eye inflammation
  • extreme fatigue
  • intestinal scarring
  • joint pain
  • malnutrition
  • rectal bleeding
  • weight loss

If you report these symptoms too, your GP will likely suspect that you have IBD or another disease instead of IBS.

Some other differences:

Inflammation: IBS is a functional disorder, whereas IBD involves inflammation of parts of the digestive system.  This is why IBD can be diagnosed by endoscopy (camera test) whereas IBS cannot.

Prevalence: Compared to IBD diseases, IBS is extremely common. In fact, around 11% of men and 23% of women suffer from the condition. IBD is less common, although there are 300,000 people living with this condition in the UK.

Causes: IBS is almost always triggered by stress or a change in lifestyle. The causes of IBD, however, are still unknown.

How are they similar?

The two conditions are very different. Still, a person who has been given a diagnosis of IBD may have IBS-like symptoms. Since both are chronic conditions affecting the intestines, diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain are experienced in either case.

They are also both considered chronic (ongoing) conditions without a widely effective cure. If you’re showing signs of either condition, that means it’s time to see your GP.

The Abergavenny Dietitian

As an experienced dietitian, I know how tough it can be to tell the difference between IBS and IBD, never mind treating them. If you have been diagnosed with one or the other, I can help you manage the symptoms, helping you go back to living your life the way you see fit.

Call me for a five-minute consultation today!


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